Last night’s UNDERGROUND was a wild and crazy ride. If you’re among those who found last week’s “Minty” too slow and heavy on the dialogue (or better put monologue), you’ll likely be a fan of the kinetic and action-packed “28.” In fact, it might just be the finest episode of the season.
First things first, we finally learn the fate of Cato who’s been ensnared by season two’s top antagonist Patty Cannon. While Cannon pulled August’s strings through promises of revenge and ample liquor, she gets to Cato first by breaking him. Remember that Cato has gone through a meteoric rise in season two, not just with respect to his station but also, in a way, his morality.
Sure one can question Cato’s ostentatious lifestyle and money worship, but the free Cato of the north was finally actually working toward something bigger than himself. And while it was easy to anticipate Cato’s fall, that doesn’t mean it was any easier to watch. After a heavy dose of pummeling and torture by Cannon and her goons, Cato comes out on the other side forced to aid and abet another wicked enterprise — abducting and selling freed blacks back into slavery.
This is somewhat of a twist for Cannon, who for most of this season has put a bullseye on Tubman and the Macon 7. But Cannon isn’t one to pass up any money-making enterprise, and black bodies free or unfree are at her whim. This is a tough lesson for Cato, who believed his newfound wealth made him bulletproof in antebellum America. Money might talk, but only for those who are considered fully human in the first place.
In a standout but somewhat familiar scene, Cannon and team set up shop and engage in skeet shooting. The few white men who’ve come along for the ride this time seem somewhat progressive (well, they call blacks “Negroes”) but Cannon aims to disabuse them of that notion. She hands the shotgun to Cato in what first seems to be a test of whether a black man can shoot with skill. But when Cato unsurprisingly turns the gun toward Cannon and discovers that it’s empty, the whole band laughs at Cato’s expense. Again, Cato is at Cannon’s whim.
Things get downright tough to watch when Cato befriends and then betrays a free black man and brings him to Cannon. Not too long ago, Cato was that free man. Now, he’s doing whatever he can to save his hide and, I shouldn’t neglect to mention, his love Devi’s. But when his British love discovers that Cato made an awful deal (each of them is to abduct dozens of freedmen each in exchange for their freedom), Devi is crushed and seems finally done with him for good. For Devi the choice is simple. She’d rather be a slave than subject many others to the system.
Rosalee and Noah, meanwhile, make their much anticipated arrival back on the Macon plantation. Things have totally changed, of course, and this is a case of the audience being far ahead of our heroes. Still, the writers do have a few tricks up their sleeves. Noah retrieves a book of slave names to find out where the family might have sold Ernestine. Rosalee, all the while, goes to get James from the big house. Noah’s part of the plan is executed without too many surprises.
But when Rosalee arrives to rescue James, he cries out for help which alerts the whole planation. Wow! I was shocked by this moment, but also unsure of what to make of it. Is this really what you could call a betrayal? The episode ends with brutal overseer Bill Meeks, who somehow is still alive and drunk as ever, branding Rosalee with a helpless Noah watching from a distance.
Away from the Macon planation, Ernestine and Clara’s relationship really takes an interesting turn. Last we caught up with the two, it seemed that Ernestine was still very much pulling the strings here. Clara was the student and ‘Stine was the teacher. But Clara now seems determined that she can amass more power than Ernestine ever did in her heyday.
In a shocking moment, she tells Master Matthew that Ernestine is planning her escape. When Matthew and his band make their way toward the slave quarters, Clara, in a long flowing dress, leads the charge. Of course Ernestine is long gone, but that sequence fully spoke to the newfound and quite surprising standing that Clara now has here. I’m guessing that much like Cato, it won’t be long before Clara’s fortune also changes.
Ade Adeniji | Contributor